The costumes in Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003) don’t really stand out – and that’s a good thing. They seem so very natural to the time and place that one almost doesn’t notice them. The whole film has a beautiful, spare simplicity to it, a lack of overstatement or pretension. A homage to the exquisite treatment of light for which Vermeer is so deservedly famous is very much in evidence here, with the alternation of stark outdoor lighting with the hazy half-light of candles.
Back to those costumes…. There are basically three varieties thereof.
Firstly, we see the elite of 17th-century Delft in richly hued finery that recalls Vermeer’s own lavish use of exotic colours such as lapis lazuli in his artwork:
Then there is Vermeer himself, slightly dishevelled and partially unshaven, very much the devil-may-care artiste in rolled-up shirt sleeves, with tunics that hint at slowly becoming shabbier as the money runs out:
And finally, we have Griet. The casting of Scarlett Johansson was something of a masterstroke here, as she quite simply “looks Vermeer”. (I have a friend who looks exactly like a Waterhouse… but that’s beside the point!) Johansson’s creamy pale skin, voluptuous figure (thank you! finally, some recognition that the Keira Knightley stick-thin-shape would in fact not have been considered the apex of beauty anytime prior to the 1920s, and is thus visually anachronistic for period dramas!), and pale eyebrows – lightened for the role – make her almost the doppelgänger of the original girl with a pearl earring.
Along with the other working folk, Griet is dressed in heavy linens, with subdued shades of brown, green, and blue. Her modest white caps serve to emphasize simultaneously her Protestant austerity, her state of servitude, and her inner purity:
And it is this lack of overt colour or display that makes it all the more visually impressive when Griet finally dons the famous garb, complete with eponymous pearl earring, that is so much more than just a film costume:
Here is the original, for comparison:
I’d say they got that costume exactly right!
~ costume design: Dien van Straalen ~